Exercise is Better for Alzheimers and Dementia Prevention than Brain Games
In 26 out of 27 studies of several hundred people each, there was a clear link between those who were physically active and their cognitive abilities. Here’s a few of the findings from those studies that you’d be wise to explore:
- Regular exercise in your 30s and 40s can reduce the risk of dementia by 30%.
- Aerobic or cardio workouts help increase your brain size—specifically the hippocampus—and immediately increase brain activity.
- And consistent exercise over many years, especially during mid-life, builds up our brain size and its ability to remember for decades.
Whether you’re 30 or 60, cardiovascular exercise is going to benefit your brain—even those who are already experiencing mild cases of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia will show remarkable improvement by moving more, increasing heart rate, and pumping more blood to the brain.
Read on to better understand these research-backed finding, and to create a new mindset on how to keep your brain healthy, disease-free, or how to slow the progression of any mental diseases that may already be knocking.
Studies on Alzheimer's and Dementia point to the need for physical as well as mental exercise.
Word games and puzzles have seen a rise in popularity as studies on Alzheimer’s and brain activity hit the news years ago. Multiple universities and medical clinics encourage people to promote good brain activity to keep their memories alive. Brain-training games like Lumosity, which purports to help your mind adjust to changes, a process called neuroplasticity, have popped onto the scene.
That's all well and good, but new studies are showing that, while mental exercise is important to brain health, physical exercise is just as—if not even more—important.
Exercise matters (a lot) for brain health.
Physical activity is essential in keeping your brain functioning. First, it keeps the blood flowing through your body and up to your brain, which encourages all parts of your brain to function. Second, as we age, our cognitive abilities actually start shrinking. Exercise increases production of different hormones and chemicals that protect the brain from this natural reduction of capacity.
Several studies have come to the same conclusion that exercising a few times a week for about 30 minutes helps with the following:
- Keeping your learning skills sharp
- Delaying the start of Alzheimer’s, for those who are at risk, and helping slow progression of the disease
- Improving memory, reasoning, judgement, and thinking for those who are already struggling with memory loss
For optimal brain health, get your heart rate up.
Aerobic exercise is by far the most beneficial type of exercise for our brains. One hospital conducted a study of 1,145 seniors who were at risk of Alzheimer’s and found that those who raised their heart rate with aerobic exercise had cognitive function that was three times better than those who focused on their muscles.
Yep, following Richard Simmons or running around the block is better for your brain than pumping iron. Luckily, we’re not expected to run a marathon or become a ninja warrior. Even just 4,000 steps a day increases our brain functionality. That’s around two miles—completely doable. But any exercise is much better than no exercise at all.
Why does aerobic exercise increase our brain functionality and illness prevention? Doing jumping jacks or swimming increases the size of our hippocampus, the part of our brain involved in memory. People who play an aerobic sport, in other words, have bigger brains and more capacity to remember their grandkids. Not only that, aerobic exercise increases your heart rate, which can help increase the blood flow to your brain.
Start training your brain in mid-life.
You should start now to get your brain on the path to optimum health, but know that your approach should be more of a marathon than a sprint. It’s consistent exercise over many years, especially during mid-life, that best builds up our brain size and its ability to remember for decades. If you make a habit early to get 20-30 minutes of aerobic exercise a few times a week, you are more likely to continue working out in your later years and maintain your ability to run circles around your friends, not to mention win those gin rummy card tournaments.
Regular exercise in your 30s and 40s can reduce the risk of dementia by 30%. Not only that, it can help brain activity right away. Exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, can increase your memory and attention at home or at work now and later in life.
It's never too late to incorporate exercise for improved brain function.
So maybe you’ve already made it through your mid-life crisis and can see the golden years closely up ahead. Well, it’s not too late to get started! Find a friend to walk with or do an Aqua Zumba class at your local rec center and keep your brain from shrinking. That’s right: a study in Scotland found that those who were “physically active at age 70 experienced less brain shrinkage” that those who weren’t.
The numbers are incredible: in 26 out of 27 studies of several hundred people each, there was a clear link between those who were physically active and their cognitive abilities. All of those involved in the studies were over 60 years of age. Even those who were already experiencing mild cases of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia showed remarkable improvement.
Exercise is a long-term investment.
All the good things you do for your body now are good for you in the future. Healthy eating, improving your thinking and reasoning skills, and exercise will make a difference now and in the decades to come. We know now that not only is playing tennis with your friends benefitting your heart, it’s also safeguarding your brain. So find something active you like to do and start now. Your memory will thank you later.
An active approach to life spans all generations, and encouraging group activities is a great strategy to get that message across and make a world of difference.
The great news is that you don’t have to spend $150 on new running shoes or a gym membership. The physical exercise many doctors recommend to build up your hippocampus includes daily activities such as a quick walk around your block, gardening, or even cleaning your house.